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Google and Facebook pledge to stop their ads reaching fake news websites

Yesterday Facebook said it could not judge the truth and had no fake news problems

By Simon Sharwood, 15 Nov 2016

Google and Facebook have both announced they'll try to stop their ads making it onto fake news sites.

Fake news has become a post-US-election flashpoint, with numerous commentators opining that deliberately lurid election-related stories created solely to attract eyeballs and ads* may have unwittingly been given vote-swaying weight by some readers. With the US election decided by less than 1 per cent of all votes cast, it's felt that social networks, search engines and online advertisers need to recognise that they have weighty responsibilities to their audiences.

Google, for example, yesterday wore criticism for giving a top search ranking to a fake news site that offered false reporting on election results. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was moved to defend his site's circulation of fake news, arguing that only 1 per cent of content on the site is fake.

Zuckerberg also said Facebook "must be extremely cautious about becoming arbiters of truth ourselves".

But it's now decided it is willing to spot and name a lie, telling the Wall Street Journal that it will change its advertising network policies to prevent sites peddling fake news from running its ads.

Facebook followed Google, which in a widely circulated statement has said: "Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher's content, or the primary purpose of the web property."

Both sites' actions will go some way towards removing the financial incentive to publish fake news, but neither yet has an answer for what happens when fake stories rise to prominence as a result of users' actions. ®

* As opposed to stories created with the aim of faithfully reporting writers' observations to inform and entertain readers.

The Register - Independent news and views for the tech community. Part of Situation Publishing